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Medical Reporting Guidelines

Upping the Ante: The PRISMA Guidelines for Better Research


Dr. Jeffrey S. Isenberg, LetPub Editor

February 2022

Science strives to understand the natural world by providing explanations for observations. These explanations may arise from tests wherein the conditions are exactly specified such as cell experiments. Other explanations may arise from re-analysis of primary data sets. In this regard, review of published manuscripts and the data reported therein may provide new insights. However, for such studies to be of value, the process of review and data synthesis should adhere to specific standards and methodologies. This process ensures that the scientific community can assess clearly how any review study was designed and performed, as well as how the results were reported. In this way, one can judge the findings of the review and weigh them in relation to the broader science or one’s own focus. Such guidelines are useful in providing minimum metrics and standards to reviews.

What are the PRISMA guidelines?

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) is a set of standard guidelines enjoined to improve the quality and comparability of research based on reviews of published manuscripts, the latter containing original raw data. The guidelines were developed as a response to concerns about the range in quality of systematic reviews. A recent PubMed search using ‘PRISMA guidelines’ returned 12,095 results, suggesting that the scientific community is supportive of this concept. Indeed, multiple scientific journals and societies request researchers employ these guidelines when performing and reporting review-based research. The PRISMA guidelines are general and thus applicable to basic, translational and clinical data reviews.

Purpose of the PRISMA guidelines

The PRISMA guidelines dedicated website can be found at PRISMA. At this site are the two key elements to the PRISMA guidelines: (1) a list of the guidelines (checklist) and (2) a diagram (flow chart). The 27 brief and easy-to-follow guidelines describe the steps one should take to provide rigor and reproducibility to their research study. The guidelines are organized in line with the standard sections found in research papers (e.g., title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and other information). Researchers should become familiar with the guidelines prior to beginning their study. Indeed, the guidelines provide appropriate directions on how to design a high-quality review. They also give directions on data analysis and presentation. Adherence to the guidelines will go a long way to controlling and eliminating research caprice and investigator bias from a systematic review. The flow diagram serves as a hierarchical if-then algorithm that sorts manuscripts into categories based on pre-determined criteria (see the checklist). Employing the flow chart is useful during the study and, when completed, the chart may itself serve as a figure in the manuscript. Refinements and additional applications of the guidelines can be found at PRISMA extensions.

Application and promotion of PRISMA

Promotion of the guidelines continues. Leading journals such as JAMA, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, PLOS Medicine, Systematic Reviews, and BMJ recently published the guidelines. Adherence to the guidelines will, no doubt, increase the strength of a review and thus increase the chances of publishing the data in a high impact journal. Adherence will also positively impact the frequency with which the manuscript is cited by other researchers. Inclusively, the website also provides translations of the guidelines for researchers less comfortable with English (PRISMA translations).

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